The Question That Started It All

Predestination and Free will—Do they go together? My pastor said we can't comprehend or know how God can choose us while we are able to choose Him in the same time. The Bible speaks of both. Free-will with predestination seems like a contradiction to me. If God chose me to choose Him, did I really have the free-will to choose Him?


Eric Landstrom's reply: Beware those who say the two subjects are mutually exclusive of each other. These people will present you with a fringe view that is the result of an uninformed, unreflective, and rigid false dichotomy. At best they will simply rehash the historical positions of Augustine and Pelagius as they run to opposite ends of the logic pool to defend their view.

After reflecting upon your question, I will lay it out for you:

As stated elsewhere on this web site:

  1. God definitely has foreordained or predestined from the foundations what will happen to those who have followed Him and to those who have not followed Him.
  2. By grace, God has not fixed or predetermined the eternal fate of individuals one way or the other. Yet, as Geisler well summarized, this does not deny that God:

a) Works to effect things.
b) Allows things.

c) Positively commands things.
d) Negates or negatively requires something not to be enacted.
e) Teaches and advises but does not coerce an action.

Simply put, just because God hasn't fatalistically predestinated the fate of each individual does not mean that God is not active in His creation. Neither does creature choice that results from grace (freed will) detract from the Lord's providence or sovereignty over His creation. Neither does creature choice mean that God has not predetermined what shall happen corporately to the aggregate groups of the faithful and the unfaithful.

Though I am still looking for a better way to articulate, to present the following, you're welcome to a trip through my own reflections upon the question you've asked:

My argument regarding man's chosing God and God's choosing man: Personally, I reject the idea that man can choose God and His transcendant witness. Instead I argue that man can only choose to reject God. As stated, I believe that both Augustine and Pelagius went to the opposite extremes of the logic pool. I also believe that they were both wrong and argue for what I believe is the middle ground while affirming compatibolism.

Simply put my argument is this:

    1. God the Spirit who administers grace is present among and is working to redeem all men.
    2. The moral choice that man makes is not to receive God the Spirit, for He is already there and the grace has already been given.
    3. Rather, the moral choice is to suppress the calling of grace to do the good and do that which is contrary to God and His inward witness, one's conscience in preference for evil. In rejecting the grace that is given, one rejects the ministry of God the Spirit, and this, if done unto death, means to die in your sins.

    Thus man does not choose God and neither does God force man to believe.

As such, man does not choose God and neither does God force man to repent and believe because man can resist and suppress the grace and call of salvation offered. Thus my argument affirms and is in accordance with a distinctly Arminian view of systematized theology. In essence my argument affirms that God has chosen all men, yet it is compatible with the idea that man has a choice; for if man has no choice, howbeit man is held responsible? "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" (Jer 13:23).

My view is that the receiving and acting upon grace, positively speaking, is a passive act from the perspective of the individual because God is the active participant. Negatively speaking, refusing the call to act on the grace given and resisting grace is an active act on the part of the person wherein God becomes the passive, permissive participant.*

My view is that all of mankind is under an unconditional covenant with God wherein God gives grace to all of mankind. I argue that this grace always has the call to salvation, repentance and faith leading to justification and sanctification, the gifts of the Holy Spiri, and the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit in view and although this grace is situational and personal and cannot be rejected, it can be suppressed or resisted. Negatively, for resisting and suppressing the truth, man will be held accountable which is what the apostle Paul argued in the opening chapter of his epistle to the Romans (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

I further argue that the real beauty of this argument is that it dovetails into rational arguments for the existence of God, observable facts, as well Scripture:

First, my presentation dovetails into the moral argument:

All feel responsibility. No human consciousness can fully succeed in escaping some awareness of guilt and shame. This cannot be explained sociologically or in terms of parenting. The depth, extent, and power of these moral feelings require the explanation of a moral presence, God the Spirit, in all men. The voice within ourselves, conscience, points to that which is beyond oneself. Conscience is not something we merely give ourselves (and thus could also fail to give), but is a God given gift to correct and instruct against immorality. If it were objected that one gave himself moral requirements apart from a transcendent source, this would not constitute a suitable answer because oftentimes we wish we could get rid of our conscience, that it would cease to bother us. Hence, conscience is not self-imposed, but rather unavoidable, from a transcendent witness from within. It is this same transcendent witness, a voice from deep within ourselves which is not our own, that calls us to do what is right.

Yet obviously we can do things that are contrary to this witness, our conscience. Thus we are afforded empirical evidence that God does not force any man unconditionally to be his servant. Romans 9:1 is an interesting verse to ponder this all over as you come to recognize that still little voice within you, is the awesome fearful presence of the Lord our God.**

Secondly, it dovetails into man's God given ability to reason:

Human reasoning begins with a fundamental trust in it's own power of reasoning. Although at times the senses may deceive, the only way we can grasp those deceptions is on the basis of the larger assumption of the intelligibility of things and the trustworthiness of the inquiring mind in ferreting out deceptions. Descartes rightly reasoned that the one thing he could not possibly doubt was that he had the capacity to doubt. If I can doubt my own thoughts, I must be able to think, to inquire, to examine, and to criticize, and these functions could not work without both an intelligible world and a perceiving intelligence (Thomas Oden, The Living God, Prince Press, 2001, pp. 147-48).

Rational persons have some sense of right and wrong from their natural reason, an indication that the Holy Spirit is present in them. Even "barbarians and nomads" show some signs of kalokagathia, "moral excellence," whenever they leave previously uncivilized customs. When that happens the Holy Spirit is at work and has gained a victory over sin in His mission to draw all men unto Himself.

Herman Bavinck writes of God's omnipresence: "When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart. Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there he is. From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him" (as cited by Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Zondervan, 1999, p. 81).

Thirdly, Scripture affirms that God is within all men, for all men are said to be without excuse (Romans 1:16-20). Apart from all influence of God, howbeit men are held responcible to the point that they are completely without excuse?***

Scripture continues to infer that the Spirit of God knocks on the hearts of all men, saying, "this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33).

To give you a summary of what Jeremiah is speaking of, I quote from Matthew Henry's commentary regarding Jeremiah 31:27-34:

The people of God shall become numerous and prosperous. In Hebrews 8:8,9, this place is quoted as the sum of the covenant of grace made with believers in Jesus Christ. Not, I will give them a new law; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; but the law shall be written in their hearts by the finger of the Spirit, as formerly written in the tables of stone. The Lord will, by his grace, make his people willing people in the day of his power. All shall know the Lord; all shall be welcome to the knowledge of God, and shall have the means of that knowledge. There shall be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at the time the gospel is published. No man shall finally perish, but for his own sins; none, who is willing to accept of Christ's salvation.

But this isn't the only bit of Scripture that support that the Holy Spirit is present among all men, for Romans 2:15 reports: "in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them."

Just so you know that this is not all referring to some future event, but to one that has already come to pass, I quote Hebrews 8 :6-13, as Matthew Henry affirms as well:

Heb. 8:6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
Heb. 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
Heb. 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
Heb. 8:9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
Heb. 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
Heb. 8:11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
Heb. 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
Heb. 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Italics, mine.)

Hebrews 10:16 also supports this as well, saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them." Clearly the Spirit of God was at work on the hearts of those who heard Peter on Penecost before they where saved for upon hearing him, "they were pricked in their heart" (Acts 2:37) and convicted of their sin. It wasn't until the next verse that Peter tells the assembly to repent. John 16:8 says: "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." How will the world be convicted of sin and a coming judgment unless there is already a transcenant witness right now among all men?

And let us not forget John 12:36, which reads, "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them" (italics, mine).

The chronology of the verse is as follows :

1) While you have the light (God's transcenant witness, your conscience****)
2) Put your trust in the light (faith)
3) So that you may become sons of light (regeneration, being born again)

God the Spirit provides illumination that precedes faith and that is before regeneration, the point of salvation.

What this all boils down to is that the Lord has entered into an unconditional covenant with all peoples. It is a covenant you cannot avoid, for as the earlier argument pointed out, you cannot fail to have a conscience. Indeed the Holy Spirit is present and at work to redeem all men, yet obviously God the Spirit can be resisted, else if He cannot be you must argue that you are without sin and sin no more which is to deny 1 John 1:8 which says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

Explanatory Notes:

* The providence of God grants and permits fallen human free agency where that freedom is enabled to act but not positively and after the fall free agency is preserved. For if God were to omnicausally control all events, human free agency would not be real because people would not be responsible for their actions and in a world where God is the issuer, cause, and continuing enabler of evil, God would be responsible for all evil. Such a world where God is responsible for evil would seem to contradict the Bible and should be conceptually rejected as a poor fit to scriptural evidence. Yet if God allows free agency and free agents are unable to do the good then apparently the only place left for free agents is in the expression of evil. Thus it is said that God doesn't unilaterally operate our wills, but cooperates with our wills so as to be present in and with our every activity. In this way God funds and resources our free wills. In this way, our every sin is a direct sin against God as he is made a passive participant. A fine point should be made at this point: God cooperates with our will so as to allow the effects of our freedom and choices, but not to applaud the defects of our freedom. Clearly because there is evil and sin in the world Christians can see that God permits freedom, the greater good, to distort an otherwise good creation, but this does not mean that God affirms or enjoys the defective side of freedom like cursing him or flying wide-bodies into tall buildings. At any-rate, in this way do Christians view all sin is ultimately against an eternal God and how an eternal hell is justified. Return

** Conscience may be defined as "a universal human experience of awareness that accompanies consciousness in every action, seeking to assess whether that action is consistent with what one knows is the best of one's moral self (Rom. 2:15; Heb. 10:2)" (Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace, p. 71) and all Christians are called to have a clean heart and good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 3:16, 21) and for Christians the examination of the conscience is interwoven within a life of prayer (Heb. 9:9, 10:22). Traditionally theologians have cautioned that the conscience cannot be reduced to a conceptions that it is an act of will—for we can be morally aware that something should be done and do nothing. Neither is conscience an emotion—for we can find temporary pleasure in a thing but find such a thing as wrong upon further reflection of our conscience. Neither can conscience be wholly considered to be the direct voice of God or the absolute will of God because conscience maybe led astray by misperceptions. Rather, it is said that God speaks indirectly through our conscience and then only when the soul isn’t anesthetized by habitual sin (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2) and listened to with humility, honestly, and intently with an ear to hear what is right. Return

The normative way God speaks to Christians is through the conscience and then by bringing to memory "a more sure word" of Holy Writ (2 Pet. 1:19). The deepest self-examination (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) comes through habitual prayer, the habitual dialogue with our Lord where we listen intently for his address and ask God for the grace so that we are able to hear and understand rightly (Ps. 51; 86).

Deficiencies and shortcomings in the conscience aren’t due insufficiency of grace but to the corrosive, habitual history of sin and God’s voice upon our heart diminishes as a consequence of habitual sin because of our willful inability to listen and hear his voice. Notwithstanding, by grace God uses a variety of means to spark the conscience and ignite the fires of moral awareness that attests to God’s own revulsion of moral evil who seeks to reconcile sinners by repentance and faith and change the fallen conscience to a redeemed, good and holy conscience that is freed to the will of Christ (1 Cor. 10:25-29; 2 Cor. 1:12).

Jesus set forth a practical example of moral insight in John 7:17 where he said that it is only when one does the will of God will that one will find out whether such teachings are from God (abstracted from Thomas Oden's, The Transforming Power of Grace, 1993, pp. 72, 73).

*** The primary text for the Christian view that all people have some knowledge of the One True God is Romans 1. Romans 1 teaches that all people possess some knowledge of God because God has shown the truth to them however imperfectly the truth is understood (Rom. 1:18-19). That's why, according to Paul, people are condemned because they reject the truth in their unrighteousness. Two observations we may take note of: Our first observation is that knowledge of the truth doesn't mean salvation. Christian orthodoxy holds that people are saved by a person that believers have a personal relationship with. Christian orthodoxy rejects that people are saved by an intellectual apprehension of the tenants of Christianity. Our second observation is that rejection is a summary term. Some ignore the truth, some actively campaign against the truth, some remain jaded and anesthetize themselves from the truth through their own carelessness. "hold the truth" or "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (your English Bible may vary): suppress translates katechontôn meaning to hold down, suppress, hinder or render inoperative. In unrighteousness shows that the suppression of truth brings forth corruption of the soul. In context, the suppression of truth is in the moral sphere and is in opposition to righteousness. It is the embracing of error. Whether by nature, conscience, or Mosiac law all men have been faithless to the revelation given to them and set aside what they know of God to pursue their own ends. Return

**** The normative place where God works upon individual persons to renew their hearts is in their conscience. In this ministry the Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to illuminate hearts and does not hesitate to use tangible, fleshy, bodily means to reach out to sinners to illuminate hearts such things as worship, the hearing of Scripture, which is a "lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Ps. 119:105 cf. Rom. 10:17), preaching, music, discipline, parental care, music and the influence of friends, teachers, or culture. For there is nothing that the world means for evil that God, through His ministry of grace, cannot use for good to reach out to sinners. Such outward means inwardly renew and prepare the soul for repentance and further works of grace but it is not uncommon for God the Spirit to work without external means or triggers directly upon the heart. "In this way grace works verbally and nonverbally, visibly and invisibly" (Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace, p. 57, cf. pp. 56-57). Return

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